Good morning and welcome back. I hope you enjoyed a relaxing couple of weeks and that you are ready to begin the final term in good spirits.
Some people associate this time of year with tulips or cherry blossoms or swans returning to Capistrano, but if you are a basketball fan, and I confess that I am, you probably know that this is the time of March Madness, the end-of-season NCAA basketball extravaganza that culminates with the most overused metaphors in sports, the “big dance” at the end of the well travelled and well rutted (if you’ll pardon the expression) “Road to the Final 4.”
For the innocent among us, you should know that the Madness pits 64 semi-professional teams, (I am a purist; I don’t count the 4 play-in games.) each of whom is to some degree, loosely associated with a major American university or college, in a bracket bound “one and done” elimination tournament. The result of all of this is that 63 of those 64 teams end their season with a loss. And sometimes these losses are extraordinarily painful.
We can follow CBS’ lead and sing, “One Shining Moment” at the top of our lungs, but even the affable Clark Kellogg can’t cloud the mathematical reality that ultimately only 1 of the 64 teams will succeed. For 98.4375% of the contestants, there is a whole lot of losing going on.
As the tournament unfolds, the cameras tend to linger a bit longer on the faces of the losing players. A typical post-game scene reveals teary-eyed players’ collapsing, some flat on their backs in apparent disbelief. Others seem almost paralyzed, as they gasp for breath, having pushed themselves to the edge of exhaustion.
After shaking hands with the victors, a few sprint to the sanctuary of the locker room, sinners in need of solace. Others remain immobile, like dazed victims at the scene of a crime. One or two pull a jersey over their heads, inadvertently mimicking an infantile gesture, hoping for just a moment that a thin piece of cotton can offer protection from the painful reality that awaits.
Cynics might think this is all over the top, that, like mourners at a Pyongyang funeral procession, the players are posturing; they’ll gnash their teeth and weep forever — or at least until their poignant post game interview with Jim Nantz, sponsored by Home Hardware, “home owners helping home owners.” (You end up watching a lot of commercials during the tournament!)
But I’m not so jaded, and I believe that it’s not just the” student-athletes,” to use the politically correct language of the NCAA, who can sometimes lose perspective.
Two weeks ago I was in a hospital in Florida, visiting my mom who was recovering from a car accident. (I am happy to report that she is doing well, but at the time, she was in bad shape.) I happened to be there the day that the varsity hockey team was playing their championship final against SAC, and thanks to the wonders of technology, I was able to view the game on-line.
Because the reception was better out in the hallways, I wandered the corridors with my laptop, trying to keep the connection, while also trying to keep out of the way of the busy nurses and doctors who were coming and going all around me.
Here’s what’s strange: Despite the real life drama that surrounded me in that hospital, I was completely consumed by the game taking place in Toronto, and when our team fell behind early in the second period, I must have appeared visibly shaken because a nurse actually stopped to ask me if something was wrong.
I pointed to my laptop screen and blurted, “Brody’s hurt. We ‘re down by 3 (goals), and SAC has a power play!” For just a second, I was lost in the game. I’m not sure the nurse completely understood. She gave me “the look” that suggests, “Have you lost your mind, Mr. Arrested Development?” She shook her head as she walked away, and I could almost hear her thinking, “Canadians are insane about hockey.”
The nurse’s reaction brought me back to reality, and she also reminded me of something Pete Hannon had said during his recent “This I Believe Speech.” You may recall Pete’s talking to us about his aunt’s illness and about the importance of keeping things in perspective.
I agree wholeheartedly with Pete’s thesis, but I confess that I sometimes come up short in this area myself. So when I see the college kids cry after a loss, I give them some slack, even though we all know it’s just a goofy game.
Because we also know that there is something in these games, whether they are bocci or badminton, cricket or curling, that can grab us by the gizzard, especially when we feel some connection to the players. And that reaction can sometimes border on the irrational.
I’m happy to say that my mom is doing better, and I’m glad we won that remarkable hockey game. But I’m also relieved that, when the concerned nurse interrupted my reverie by asking me if something was wrong, I didn’t instinctively blurt out, “Aurora. Aurora.”*